The Driver’s Seat: A Week With An Airstream
Flying on a Cloud
It’s quite an interesting world that we magazine folk live in. In many ways, we’re not unlike the modern carny. We live on the road, going where we’re told when we’re told, and live almost totally at the mercy of those who are running the traveling circus from which we can’t escape. Our days often blur into what amounts to a never-ending road trip, split up only by brief stints in the flying aluminum torture tube. It’s easy to get caught up in the glitz, glamor, wine, and dine whirlwind. So for that reason it is important to break this cycle from time to time, if for nothing else to preserve some sort of sanity and reconnect with the real world, if even briefly.
I recently had a chance for some of that sanity-saving disconnect, but it definitely wasn’t in the real world. A few weeks back, I fielded a phone call from a representative of Airstream asking if I’d like to borrow one of the company’s trailers for a week. The only logical answer to that inquiry was an immediate yes. Complicating matters further was the fact that the shiny travel trailer was available just two weeks from the time of the call, putting my planning skills to the full test.
Before I knew it, I had our long-term ’18 GMC Sierra 2500HD hitched up to a brand-new ’19 Airstream Flying Cloud, headed north with the family out of the urban jungle and up to a mountain location some 7,500 feet above the sea and well away from any sign of cell service. It was a glorious few days that should have been spent resting the soul for the impending new truck-launch season, but instead was consumed either behind the lens or staring at a screen. At least I was outside communing among nature—albeit with a MacBook Pro.
If nothing else, the scenery and accommodations were second to none. Airstream is an iconic brand of travel trailers, which are immediately recognizable by their rounded shape and polished aluminum coachwork. Airstream was born in the 1930s in California and was the only surviving travel trailer manufacturer by the end of the Great Depression. Production was halted during WWII, but was restarted in 1948. In 1952 a new factory was built in Jackson Center, Ohio, and the last trailer to be produced in California rolled off the lot in 1979. Today the Airstream brand is owned by Thor, Inc. and is still headquartered in Jackson Center. The company produces around 80 of the iconic trailers per week.
For my great adventure, I had in tow a Flying Cloud 25FB, which simply means that it is 25 feet in length with a front bed. There are four different floor plans of the 25-foot Flying Cloud, with 19 Flying Cloud models in total ranging from $66,400 in price to $99,900. Our test model had a starting price of $85,900 with an as-tested price of $90,984 after options. While that’s quite a tough pill to swallow, remember, you’re paying for the legendary Airstream name and glorious aluminum shell.
Specs for the Cloud are pretty standard, as travel trailers go anyway. The unit has two torsion beam axles, weighs 5,600 pounds dry (with batteries and propane), and has a maximum GVWR of 7,300 pounds. So long as you don’t overload it, nearly all midsize pickups and fullsize SUVs are capable of lugging the unit around. Dry camping with an Airstream can be tough, as they are set up more for sites with hookups than deep in the woods. Fresh water capacity is 39 gallons, which proved fine with no showering (who does that while camping anyway?).
Inside, the Cloud felt larger than it really is, thanks to a combination of 17 windows and skylights, including panorama windows front and rear. Without the ability to run the air conditioning, the shiny metal tube got a bit hot inside during the day, which also had the side effect of taxing the propane-powered refrigerator. While two roof-mounted Fan-Tastic fans helped pump out the warm air, they would drain the batteries quicker than the 160 watts of rooftop solar panels could recharge them. We recharged the batteries at night by running the truck’s engine, which worked for a while, but eventually had to resort to borrowing a generator to get through. Not having an onboard generator proved obnoxious, and for nearly $100K, it’s hard to believe there isn’t even an option for one.
Storage space abounds, and the kitchen was well equipped. Thankfully, I don’t care for coffee, since the Cloud’s 1,000-watt inverter quickly showed itself as being incapable of powering my wife’s travel Keurig (score one more win for my Monster addiction). For the money, we’d like to see higher-end materials used and bit more attention to fit and finish, but we get that the money is in the name. There was plenty of seating for all who visited, and the private bedroom with a queen bed was ideal for nighttime slumbers. If you need more sleeping space, the table folds down and provides room for three more nearly adult-size people. The toilet enclosure is separate from the shower—a definite luxury in the trailer world—and curtains separated the trailer into three areas for supreme privacy. One of our favorite features was the LED light that illuminated the black and gray tank dumps—it’s all about the little things.
Outside, the Cloud was equipped with forward and aft storage, an electric tongue jack, three awnings, and an impressively stout cast-aluminum step mechanism. A pair of deflectors protects the front from road debris, and manual leveling jacks are found at each corner.
Everywhere the trailer went, it drew attention. People stopped us on the street to talk about it, asking to see inside. We got lingering looks on the freeway and at fuel stops, and it certainly evoked envy from the tent campers nearby. Even other motorists gave respect to the Airstream, allowing for the easiest merging of any trailer we’ve towed.
After spending a week with an Airstream, it’s perfectly clear that I’m not the company’s intended customer. We got the beautiful trailer embarrassingly (by Airstream standards) dirty before it was even parked. Even still, the Flying Cloud was remarkably beautiful to look at, towed fantastic, and was a dream to live in—even for just a few days. I can certainly see the allure and am happy to be able to cross this life goal off the ol’ bucket list.